Sec State Ritchie Urges Dayton to Veto Voter ID Legislation

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At his news conference this morning, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton hinted that he would likely veto the Republican-led House and Senate’s Voter ID legislation by tomorrow. Dayton said that he would consult Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, and others, about the legislation, which opponents claim would disenfranchise minority voters, senior citizens, and college students. Ritchie wrote the following op-ed piece, which was submitted yesterday to newspapers around the state, in opposition of the Voter ID legislation:

Voter ID Turns a Right into a Privilege
Commentary by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie

I believe that the Governor should follow-through on his promise to veto any election legislation that lacks broad bi-partisan support and should take a stand to protect the right to vote.

At a first glance, the requirement asking eligible voters to show a government-issued photo ID before being allowed to vote seems reasonable. After all, most Minnesotans have a photo ID. So what’s the big deal? The big deal is that in our Constitution voting is a right not a privilege. Many Minnesotans may be surprised to learn that over 10% of seniors do not have a government-issued photo ID and many more have one, but with the wrong address. This is especially true of those who no longer drive.

Losing the right to vote for lack of an official government-issued identification card turns voting from a right into a privilege. You would be allowed to vote if, and only if, you could obtain and pay for all the documents required by the government. Not a problem for many of us, but very complicated if you are unable to afford the costs, a senior citizen, were born outside of our state, or are in the military. You could vote if the government provided you with a free ID and if you are able to travel to the appropriate office during office hours – very difficult for many of our seniors who live in nursing homes. Eligible Minnesota voters would be forced to spend money they may not have or forgo their right to vote.

Photo ID proponents argue that these additional barriers to voting will prevent voter fraud. As Minnesota’s Secretary of State, I take accusations of election fraud very seriously. While there have been a lot of accusations of fraud by partisan groups, the evidence is clear that after two high profile recounts where lawyers and investigators from both sides spent millions of dollars in attempts to find voter fraud, they concluded that there was “not a whiff of fraud” in Minnesota’s election system.

Yes, in every election there are a handful of felons who vote illegally, almost universally because they had not been told that they could not. Following the 2008 election, about 100 have been charged or convicted (out of 2.9 million voters). Would a photo ID contain any information about whether or not you’ve been convicted of a felony? No. This photo ID legislation will not prevent the only type of illegal voting of which there is any evidence.

Some proponents admit that fraud is not an issue, but argue that we need to impose these new restrictions to lure people back to the polls – asserting that a perception of fraud is keeping Minnesotans from voting. Given that we are the number one voting state in the nation year after year, this argument defies logic. Simply put, Minnesotans are the most engaged voters in the nation and trust our local election officials and the 30,000 poll workers—our friends and neighbors who by law are half Republican and half Democrat – who run our elections.

While there is no factual justification for requiring a government-issued photo ID from voters, this scheme will cost state and local taxpayers millions of dollars when we can least afford it. Non-partisan analysts at the Minnesota Office of Management and Budget estimate that this bill would cost the state over $5 million and our financially strapped counties, cities and townships an additional $23 million—which would lead to further increases to property taxes.

For all of these reasons—disenfranchising eligible voters, including many seniors; the lack of a problem; the exorbitant cost; and the lack of broad support from legislators from both sides of the aisle—the voter ID proposal needs to be vetoed.

Throughout our nation’s history, brave men and women have sacrificed and died to defend liberty and justice for all – not just for some. I believe that patriots today still hold these truths to be self-evident: that our rights are not privileges, that freedom and democracy are sacred, and that they should be preserved for all citizens. With a veto of this ill-advised legislation, Governor Dayton will reaffirm these fundamental rights of all Minnesotans.

Jacob Wheeler

In addition to shooting videos for The UpTake, Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at the progressive political magazine In These Times, publishes the Glen Arbor Sun in his native Michigan, and authored "Between Light and Shadow," a recent book about the Guatemalan adoption industry. Wheeler's stories have appeared in such magazines as the Utne Reader, Earth Island Journal, Rotarian and Teaching Tolerance magazine, and newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor. He speaks fluent Spanish, German and Danish.

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